It was April Fools Day yesterday. I didn't do one. For me, there is something dispiriting about the forced jollity of such an occasion. The only good one I experienced was when I was six and the class teacher sealed the straws through which we tried to drink our daily milk, and it has only ever been a letdown since. It's a day best left to the those who think revolving bow ties or fake dog poo are the apotheosis of comedy.
However, if there's one thing more tiresome than an April Fool perpetrated by an individual, it's one by a media organisation. Ever since the BBC programme Panorama fooled people into believing spaghetti grew on trees back in the 1950s (has there even been a greater example of how gourmet-benighted post-war Britain was?) newspapers and television makers have fallen over themselves laughing trying to hoodwink the great unwashed. There is something quaint and desperate about it in some ways, in the days of the Internet rumours, scams and viral hoaxes - newspapers thinking their readers will fall for stories about how the EU are trying to make bananas straight or some such. Lean in to read and you half expect to be squirted in the face with water.
Yesterday, the Guardian managed to come out with that rare example - an April Fool that was vaguely funny. A General Election is looming here - I will blog about this in more detail when the phony war ends and the campaing starts in the next few weeks - and the parties are already positioning. The incumbent Labour government, tired, short on ideas, stained by war, led by dour old Gordon Brown, an old-school serious politician lost in the post-Blair televisual age, trying to hang on to power against a no longer despised Conservative Party that claims to have changed and reinvented itself but isn't fooling anyone, or shouldn't be. Ironically, it's claiming a new shiny modern look with an Old Etonian leader, David Cameron, who while young and jelly-faced, is a Tory of the old privileged school, and an ex PR man with more than a passing knowledge of snake oil. Between those two, clamouring for attention like the mild-mannered middle child, sit the Liberal Democrats, who may well get their shot at the big chance if there is an hung parliament, and they hold the balance of power, which is not unlikely according to the polls.
Anyway, the Guardian ran a story about Labour taking the gloves off and trading on Brown's hostile demeamour (there have been allegations of him bullying staff and he is reported to have a ferocious temper) in a new series of ads, an example of which heads this post. 'Step Outside Posh Boy' is the message, urging Cameron, who admittedly looks like the run and hide weedy type, to settle it like men. I did a double take before I realised the joke, not least because ads like this, while crude, would be an improvement on the ones that try to make Brown, with his permanent scowl and insincere smile, appear like some kind of benovelent family man, full of joy and love and bonhomie. I can see him laying out Cameron with a punch far more readily and more genuinely than I can see him kissing babies. There is something almost cruel in watching a man like Brown, who has had his head buried in policy, statistics and books all his life, being forced to walk hand in hand on a beach with his wife, or tell a TV interviewer how he chatted her up, like laughing at a bear trying to ballet dance. But that's modern politics innit (the Lib Dems chose their leader, Nick Clegg, another Blair clone, on his televisual appeal despite having a far more qualified and worthy candidate, Vince Cable, who was ruled out because, shock horror, he was bald and not very good looking.)
The Guardian spoof appeared to resonate because within a few hours various Internet sites had run with the ad and started coming up with their own. My favourite being the one here, depicting Brown as a glowering Scottish drunk. Political advertising is so debased it's been fun to see it debunked so nicely.